Rolling out your Plan for World Domination? Do this first!

bullhorn to deliver messages to employees

Is your plan brilliant? Not if they don’t hear it. Three things to consider when delivering a new plan to your team.

Eureka! You’ve done it! You figured out the master plan to explode your team’s revenues, destroy the competition, and single-handedly catapult your company to the head of the Fortune 500 list. But before you roll it out to the troops, here are three things to figure out first! (Details, details,  I know. Clearly I am a killjoy.)

The HOW:

What tool(s) will you use to deliver your brilliant plan? First, consider what you know about your team (henchmen/evil co-conspirators/devoted followers– feel free to select the description that applies to your bunch):

  • Are they readers? Note, I am not asking if they can read, (although in some audiences that is a very important question), I am asking if reading is their first choice for learning new information. Hint: if your team would prefer to listen to “The One Minute Manager” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” on an MP3, they aren’t readers.
  • If they are readers, do you need to sum up the whole idea in 3 bullet points or deliver the plan complete with a story-type framework and pictures? Do they just read “above the fold” (i.e. preview pane only) in an email?
  • Not big readers?  Can you record it in a podcast type format? Or create a video? (Don’t just read from a powerpoint if you create a video, make it interesting, after all, world domination is on the line here!)
  • Do they need an in-person meeting for the information to penetrate? (And will you need to confiscate all of the blackberries, cell phones and technical devices at this meeting?)
  • Will a webinar work? If you use a webinar, will the team multitask throughout the webinar and miss the most salient points? (See below for a Jeanne’s formula of the vector at which the quantity of multitasking during webinars obliterates any and all value of the information being presented).
  • Any special considerations? Need to accommodate an international team and reduce all “slang” and idiomatic language? (Much harder than it may seem.  Go back through these first few bullets and eliminate the American idiomatic language. Good. Now do it again. One more time. Nope, still got some in there.)

The WHO?

Give serious thought to who is the best person to deliver your message. Internal? External? Peer? Computer generated Hologram of a dead celebrity? Consider your options:

  • Should it be delivered by a trainer? Or would it be better to bring an “outsider” in the form of a consultant or third party in to deliver the message? What about having peers or respected colleagues roll it to their teams? Some of the best change teams have influential team members become subject matter experts in key areas of the change plan and help deliver that information from the team. They then become the “go to” people for the team as the team works through the change. This helps the entire team “own” the outcomes right away, and work together through difficulties.
  • If the message will take more than 30 minutes to deliver, consider using multiple presenters, if only to vary the type of voice and to keep the team awake. It is the rare individual who is fascinating for more than 20 minutes (ever notice that TED talks are short? And those folks are pretty darn fascinating).
  • If the message is vital to the ongoing success of the team’s mission, of such critical nature that life as the team knows it is about to change, make sure you rehearse that delivery several times. (Back to those TED talks folks, you do know they rehearse it right? And that they work with consultants to help them with their delivery when they make it to the “big” conference?) If possible, get some non-team members to critique it (spouses, kids and friends in other fields come in handy here) to punch some holes in it. They may not know all the technical terms but they will know when you’re boring, vague, or delivering bravado without substance. Try teenagers who are not feeling too kindly towards you at the moment. They will not pull their punches.

The FOLLOW UP:

And now that you’ve laid out your brilliant plan…

vector of listening vs absorption in a presentation

You will have a “need for speed” if laying out your master plan in a room full of multitasking listeners!

  1. How are you going to make sure that the team begins to act on what they learned? Ending a rousing presentation with “Go Forth and Conquer” is good, but not if they forget to “Conquer” because they stopped off at the 2:1 Happy Hour immediately afterwards.
  2. Is there a follow up plan to reinforce the plan within smaller groups/teams in the coming months?
  3. Is there a way to measure the participation of different sub groups in the plan? If the work flow goes Team A to Team B to Team C, nothing may be coming out of Team C but it may be because Team B isn’t playing by the new rules. Figure out how you’ll check for effectiveness.
  4. Did you plan any sort of recognition or public acclaim for those who embrace the plan and drive results? Better yet did you get the “buy in” of a few highly respected, key team members to visibly model the behaviors you’re looking for before you even rolled the plan? (For advice on who you want, read this.) You want to make sure the thought leaders and star players are on board because if the only people following the new plan are your “weaker” players, this sort of recognition will backfire.
book by Jeanne Goldie

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Even if your plan doesn’t quite resemble world domination, you still want to work out these key items before you roll out any major changes to your team.  Need to know what else to consider before changing things up at the office? Read our 10.5 rules on turnaround here.  If you’d like our free guide, Reading the Terrain which helps you “speed read” an organization, just sign up for our weekly newsletter.

What else do you think you need to consider? share your thoughts in the comment section. Or feel free to share your plan for world domination and we’ll critique it.

Adventures in Interviewing: Shoot Straight or Not?

 

will telling the truth help or hurt in an interview

Just how candid should you be in an interview?

Ever wondered if you should bite your tongue in an interview?  Is it ever a good time to say “Wow, that sounds like a really bad plan?” (It is assumed you don’t follow that up by rolling on the floor laughing).

I’m usually hired to fix things or start them up. This means companies tend to seek me out when they’ve got a vision of some new business line they want to open or when they know something is wrong, have tried lots of things, it’s not working and they need someone else to fix it so they can get on with their main mission.

Now when someone seeks me out, they usually know my reputation. I’m a very straight shooter,  I don’t sugarcoat things, but can take a balled up mess or a really sketchy vision and turn it into something really great. I will also point out very quickly if the glass is half empty and leaking fast. I can fix that too, but not if you’re only seeing sunshine and rainbows. I’m direct because I am going to be responsible for driving results almost immediately, and if there is a blind spot about the problems or hiccups in the plan, it will affect my work. Telling the truth can also let you see how open the company is to adapting their plan.

Sometimes, however, the hiring company doesn’t know me, as I’ve been referred to them by someone else. Hilarity generally ensues.

A personal favorite was the interview with a large bank that wanted to open boutique banking centers in underserved markets throughout the United States. I had been referred to the hiring manager, a Californian, to cover the Southeast. I was the fifth interview in the Atlanta airport lounge, out of five. As this very senior manager sketched out the plan I felt the backs of my eyes beginning to roll. Sure enough, just as every other financial institution headed into the Southeast before had done, they had used census data to select the “perfect” areas for these branches.

The data told them that Location X was an opportunity rich area, moderate, but not too low, income, with a diverse population that was historically under-served by banks. Many were the perfect age for first time home buying.  They were sure they had found the mother lode of an untapped market.

Now there was just one problem. For those of you who can remember the joys of “mean” “median” and “mode” in basic statistics, you may remember that the median is the middle number of all the data in a list. The mean is an average.  The problem with good old Location X was that almost no one in the area was actually making the mean income.  Mode, the number that appears most often, would be the more appropriate measure here. Due to the wild vagaries of the drawing of census tract lines and the strange nature of the city, the residents incomes looked like this (pretend it’s a census tract of 10 people):

1. $10K

2. $10K

3. $11K

4. $170K

5. $10K

6. $ 7K

8. $120K

9. $11K

10. $90K

Wow kids! we’ve got an average (mean) income of $87K!. We’re going to do great! Break out the champagne and the “Grand opening” signs!

Umm, not so fast.

In reality the area was a large cluster of public housing units, surrounding a small college center, with a small area of mid-level housing, mostly occupied as rentals by students (they would be the folks represented# 6, who also helped pull the average age down) or owned by a handful of professors and college administrators ( #10 above) and three gracious streets of grand homes that backed up to another census tract that was much more affluent (that would be #8 and #4). Problem was, the majority of the residents were in public housing (#1, 2,3,5, and 9) and making the income associated with that service. Most were nowhere near ready to make a leap to homeownership.

The gentleman from California was no doubt tired, having been subjected to a long flight, four earnest applicants earlier in the day, and repeatedly mentioned he was catching a plane in 45 minutes, as he hit the highlights of the master plan.

As he listed the areas, I thought for a minute, almost stopped myself, and then said very quietly, “Have you signed the lease yet on Location X?”

I guarantee that was a question no one else had asked that day. I then spelled out why Location X looked good from 10,000 feet up but had never been successful for any of the other lending institutions that had tried similar things in the area.  He looked at me oddly, and wrapped up the interview quickly.

I drove home, cell phone accidentally tossed in my briefcase in the trunk of my car. I may have even lectured myself on the advisability of opening my big mouth.  After the 3o minute drive I had a message. A call from the gentleman’s boss, asking me to call her to talk about the lease, (yes, they had signed it) and explain why I didn’t think it would work. She was about to go into a 6 hour meeting but wanted me to call her as soon as possible, any time, day or night.

I got the gig five minutes into that call. I am certain that no other applicant questioned the wisdom of the plan. And yes, Location X, despite a ton of effort and energy and cash infusions, never delivered as planned, for just the reasons I had mentioned.

On the other hand, lots of people don’t want to “look at the whole picture.” Several years ago I was approached about becoming the regional manager for a large sales team. The hiring manager pointed out that they were currently at 50 people, hoping to move to 90 by the end of the year (it was June). I politely said, “I’ve reviewed your team and by my estimate you have 18 keepers and 32 people who won’t make it, they haven’t made it anywhere else. Which means you have a rebuild on your hands.”

The previous manager had been incented on bringing in bodies without any qualifications tied to the incentive, and bring them in he did. Every single person who had failed at every other sales group in town.  Just by looking at the list of the names it was easy to see who would not be there in 3 months when their guarantees ran out.

The hiring manager hired an out-of-market friend of his, without a sales background, and sure enough, most of the 32 I marked were gone six months later. And the headcount is still nowhere near 50, or 90.

So, do you tell the truth or spout the party line? I think it’s a matter of just how badly you need the role and how much “singing the party line” may cost you individually if you can’t perform at the level expected.  Many companies will lower their expectations as they realize the plan has holes in it, they just don’t want you to be the one to point them out. But if 100% of your compensation is tied to delivery, you can sugarcoat the truth a bit, but YOU need to know what you’re getting into. And maybe, so do they.

What do you think? Tell the truth and shame the devil? Or shut your mouth, get the gig and do what you can once you’re in? What have YOU done? Share in the comments below…

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Uncomfortable Conversation #2: The Project has some Cost Overruns. Big Ones.

Uncomfortable conversations series 2

We’re over budget. Way, way over budget.

The Situation:

You’re three quarters of the way through your project and you’ve just had a major setback. You underestimated the costs to get to this phase but the project is useless if only partially finished. Your cost overruns will be more than 20% of your total project budget, even with the contingencies you built in your initial estimate.

What you would like to say:

  • Perhaps if we didn’t always have to hire the lowest bidder for subcontracted work we might have had a chance.
  • It’s Internal Technology’s fault! (Everybody’s favorite fallback.)
  • If any of the components weren’t already held together with duct tape our idea would have worked.

Needless to say, none of these approaches will win friends and influence people.  And waiting to have this conversation does you no favors. You can bet that those who opposed this project in the first place, or those who just aren’t fans of you or your team, are waiting with knives drawn and absolutely have gotten wind of the overruns. If you don’t “beat” them to the decision makers, you lose.  You want to be the one to tell the story first, because otherwise your detractors will be taking out a billboard to tell it for you.

What you need to be prepared with:

  • A carefully vetted budget for the remaining tasks.
  • Suggestions on the remaining steps which could be cut, created as beta versions or scaled back in order to try to recoup some costs. Would adding time to the expected completion points of various project segments allow you to cut costs? (i.e. reducing overtime costs etc.)
  • Your original cost benefit analysis of the project and a revised version with the new budget figured in.
  • Proof of any additional productivity, sales results, or cost consolidations that have already occurred during the project implementation (which are directly due to the project). Look for numbers, not just “feel good” stories.   Revert to “feel good” stories only if there aren’t any numbers yet.
  • A firm idea of the “why’s” and “how’s” of what happened. Was it a true miscalculation? Were there so many change orders that the project grew or changed in scope? Did you hire the wrong subcontractor or make a mistake in calculating what the cost of each element of the project would be? What steps have you taken to prevent this going forward or are you still moving forward on hope alone?
  • Create a “Lessons Learned” list, making sure you’ve taken all snark or emotion out of it. Do any of these lessons indicate a similar issue may arise as you move towards project completion? Have you identified any potential future risks?

Having the conversation:

  1. Have a meeting first with the Project Sponsor to go over what has happened. Make sure they are fully aware of what you’ve done to correct things, what the new budget looks like, and any wins you have had. Show them the wins on paper or better yet, live. You need a true believer when the going gets rough. If the project sponsor isn’t a true believer, try to locate some of your allies on the management committee and go over your plan with them.
  2. Ask for the meeting with the executive team to apprise them of the situation. Be Calm. Be Factual. Be Precise.  Here is where we are. Here is what went wrong. Here is what is working. Here is how we plan to get it back on track. Here is what we’ve learned and how we will prevent it from happening again. Here is our best estimate of the costs. Here is our expected benefit of this project. Here are some of the savings/revenue/positive changes already resulting from our work.
  3. Use visuals. Clear, simple visuals of the budget, the changes, and the new budget are key. Show the new cost/benefit analysis (with the new charges) as well.
  4. Take responsibility for not catching the issue sooner.  Ask for their support of the new budget.
  5. Shut up.

What to expect:

  • As we’ve said before, once you have the conversation, you have to somewhat relinquish control of the results.
  • Understand that while there may be real consternation at the increased cost aspects of the project, you will also likely get reactions based on the internal politics between the members of the team you presented to.  If they are jockeying for political survival, they may overemphasize the “disastrous” aspects of the costs or may attack leadership or managerial skills, of you, your team or others that were part of the project. Others, surprisingly, may downplay the cost issue, perhaps because your project serves their needs for something they have planned for a later date.  It’s rare that you get a “pure” response in a meeting like this.
  • The best strategy is to have a firm strategy on how to go forward. After the team has had the time to absorb your initial message, ask for their support on the newly renegotiated timetable, budget and plan.
  • Increase communications on the project’s progress in relation to budget as part of your follow up to the committee. Determine if a weekly, monthly or daily update would be appropriate to the current scope of the project and develop a simple “at-a-glance” report that can be sent out.

How have you delivered this sort of bad news before? How did it go? Please share in the comments section!

Tim Ferris believes that “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” The Uncomfortable Conversations series on 52weekturnaround gives you the tools to have the difficult conversations that you encounter as a change agent. See the series here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Uncomfortable Conversation #1: “We need to shut down a business line”

 

Empty interior of building

Making the Tough Call isn’t Easy

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” Tim Ferris

The Situation:

Your team, after doing your research, running the numbers and looking at a challenge from every angle has come to the conclusion that a business line or project needs to be closed.  This will impact staff, facility leases, and even some customers who have come to rely on the services or products of that team.  You need to present the information to the Sr. Leadership team, two of whom made their careers by working in the very business you are proposing to close, and some of their protégé’s are working in that division right now.

What you wish would happen:

  1. Someone else would do this. Anyone else. Maybe that external auditor could suggest it.
  2. You could just drop the anonymous suggestion in a suggestion box.
  3. A recruiter would call you with the job of the century this morning so you could skip the conversation entirely.

Things to have with you:

  1. A clear, simple visual of financial projections that can be viewed at a glance, along with much more detailed information in a separate package. Graphs or charts are a good option for the overview.
  2. A plan showing the impact of keeping the line open, vs. the costs and impact of closing the line. Do one for best case, worst case and average scenarios for each option.  Be sure to incorporate your country’s or state’s requirements for staff reductions etc., in your projections (i.e. legal notice, severance. Also include the non-staff costs – leases, equipment etc).
  3. A clear proactive plan for notifying staff, customers and media (if applicable) along with a budget and timeline for the wind down effort.

Having “The Conversation”:

  1. Pick your spot. Don’t just slide it in during a random meeting or a regular staff meeting. This calls for a special meeting to just focus on this issue.
  2. Line up your sponsors beforehand.  This means having lots of one-on-one small, private meetings with discreet senior people to serve as advocates.  If everyone at the meeting is grappling with a new idea at once, the normal response would be to shoot it down or delay it.
  3. Expect that there will be delays.  Most executives will want to do a deep dive on your methodology and your numbers. (That’s what the supporting details in Item 1 of “things to have with you” are for.) However, make sure one of your exhibits shows the costs of delaying the decision by more than a month.
  4. Be sure to acknowledge the human costs involved as you discuss the topic. This is a fine balance; do not recount every detail of every family that will be affected (“Of course we’ll have to cut Mike Smith, and he’s the sole provider for his widowed mother, her six children and he has a disabled son at home”) but don’t go to the opposite extreme either, treating staff as widgets that need to be offloaded.  That will make people question your judgment. Suggest areas of opportunities for the people in the affected unit, by pointing out growing units that require similar skill sets or staffing. If there truly is no internal option, suggest an outplacement strategy.

What will happen next (most likely):

  1. Understand that once you have “dropped the bomb” you lose control of how the information is absorbed and acted upon. Don’t be so strongly wed to your proposal that you devalue attempts at compromise or restructuring. Simply stay firm, polite and open to input. Use your alternative case scenarios to help look at various options that may be proposed.
  2. Once the decision has been made, having the clear communications and action plan ready is imperative.  If you have executives who argue for delay, and it appears that even with delay, the company will have to cut the unit, you will want to point out that doing it sooner rather than later may allow the company to allot a greater amount of resources towards the displaced staff than waiting will.
  3. Take the heat. No matter who makes the final call, you and your team will eventually be “outed” as the architects of the plan. That means you’ll have some team members, even those who get to stay, looking at you in a different way.  Respond to inquiries with a firm, compassionate response and rehearse other team members as well. This is also not the time to upgrade to a better car (even if you’ve been saving forever for it) or take a long exotic vacation.  Low key empathy is the best response.

This post is part of our “Uncomfortable Conversations” series. Our next Uncomfortable Conversation: The project budget has cost overruns. Big Ones.

Have you ever been the “lucky” person who got to deliver this piece of bad news? Share how you did it and what did or didn’t work in the comment section!

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Rule #7: Locate the Elephants

How do you navigate operational change when there's an elephant in the room?

How do you navigate operational change when there’s an elephant in the room?

Almost every business has an elephant or two; the problem everyone pretends isn’t there. How do you successfully create change without the elephant crushing your plans?

Elephants can take many forms. They can be a troubled department that creates a permanent roadblock, or a dysfunctional team.  Sometimes they can be a poor technology choice, where the cost was so great replacement is prohibitive but functionality is far less than optimal. Other times the elephant is the ghost of past decisions, a bad outsourcing decision, or a poor acquisition.  In a smaller firm it might be a ledger full of “accounts payable” where the elephant is that those accounts are likely to never pay, but no one takes them off the books because the reality would just be too bleak if they were removed.

In many workplace cultures, pointing out the elephant is actively discouraged.  In some rare cases, it’s career suicide. Pointing out problems can be viewed as negative, or whining, so sometimes it’s best to figure out what the elephants are, and how you’ll work around them in your strategy rather than charge the elephant head on.

Creating a strategy that derives results that may allow the group to put the elephant to rest is a win-win. If you do decide to “tackle the elephant” head on, it’s critical that you have strong supporters, a great plan and a reasonable timeline. When you create your strategy you may not name the elephant in your plan, but you need to absolutely account for it in your design.

Have you ever had to work around the elephant in the room? How did you conquer it? Share in the comments below…

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Rule #2: What you knew on the very first day, is what you need to remember now.

Remember the first day you worked at this company, this department?  Some slight boredom, endless paperwork tempered with the excitement of starting something new.  You had some time on your hands to observe while you waited for HR to send back your docs, or your first client to call. Most likely you observed some stuff that didn’t quite make sense, processes that didn’t seem to be working well; a system that seemed to have a vital hiccup.   And you didn’t raise a red flag because, hey, you were the new guy, maybe you just didn’t get “how things worked.”

A few months later, the “Kool-Aid” has been drunk and you’re part of the team. And you don’t notice those things as much anymore. Or someone gave you some sort of explanation about them that kind of made sense or implied a higher level of thinking had already thought through that problem.

Except, you were right, your beginner’s eyes caught something important.

When I take note of things on the first week of any assignment with a new team, if I look back at the notes a year later, there is clarity of thought that often points to a key weakness of the group, team or setup.  It’s generally not people perceptions, but rather processes, procedures or underlying assumptions of the business model that have a “hole” which, while not fatal, may keep the business from achieving the greatest return on its efforts.

Go back to the beginning. Did you take notes? (If not, make sure you always do going forward.) You may not have been 100% correct in your impressions, but I guarantee, somewhere in those first few days, you saw a glimmer of one of the problems that is dogging your team now.

Start digging there.

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015